Shubangi, an all-rounder par excellence

Published: Monday, September 25, 2000, 18:23 [IST]
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There are very few genuine "all-rounders" in the game, whether among men or women, in the true definition of the word. There are bowling all-rounders who can also bat and there are batting all-rounders who can also bowl. But a genuine all-rounder is one who can fit into the playing XI both as a bowler as well as a batsman.

There are very few that can be termed as all-rounders as per this definition. In Indian women's cricket parlance, the one player, and perhaps the only player till date, who conforms to this definition is Shubangi Kulkarni.

When one thinks of genuine all-rounders, the two names that come to mind immediately are Garfield Sobers and Ian Botham. Both played pivotal roles in both capacities for major parts of their career that resulted in victories for their teams. Players like Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee and Wasim Akram are/were more of the bowling ilk. In Indian women's cricket, Diana Edulji was more of a bowler and I was more of a batsman.

Shubangi Kulkarni, more commonly known as Shubu, was a player who could qualify for selection into the team both as a bowler and as a batsman. From the latter half of 1976 till her retirement in 1991, she occupied the premier all-rounder's position. She held her place in the team till her retirement by sheer weight of her performance.

If a World XI was to be named for the period of her career, even her worst enemy could not have dropped her, as she was a unique all-rounder and therefore an automatic choice.

Her foray into international cricket was nothing spectacular. She forced her way in the Indian team towards the latter half of the New Zealand's tour of India in 1976. But she made big news in the next series against West Indies in 1976 when they toured India.

The very first Test at Bangalore saw her making big waves as she virtually mesmerised the Windies batsmen with her leg spinners. Her diagonal run up to the wicket and her wristy leg-spin made the batsmen dance to her tunes and it looked as if the 'Pied Piper' was let loose amongst a bunch of kids. She ended that Test with a rich haul of 7 for 76.

But she did not make bigger strides with her bowling as she failed to develop variations. I never saw her bowl the googly to perfection. Batsmen learnt to play the waiting game off her bowling and for those who could use their feet, she ceased to be as dangerous as she initially was. She was very effective against visiting teams but in domestic cricket, the batsmen played her well, albeit with circumspect and respect.

As a bowler, she was an ideal ally to Diana Edulji and Sharmila Chakraborty and the Indian team never had it better with the spin trio in action. Neville Cardus may have even composed a poem on her bowling had he seen her bowl, but it was her batting that impressed me more.

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